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OPEC output in Jan. lowest in 12 months

Thursday, January 31 16:20:34

OPEC crude oil output has fallen in January to its lowest in more than a year as Iranian exports dipped from December's unexpectedly high rate and top exporter Saudi Arabia cut output further, a Reuters survey found today.

Supply from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has averaged 30.53 million barrels per day (bpd), down from 30.62 million bpd in December, the survey of sources at oil firms, shipping agents, OPEC and consultants found.

OPEC output is now down by 1.22 million bpd from its April 2012 peak of 31.75 million before the European Union implemented an oil embargo on Iran and as Saudi Arabia lifted output to bring prices down from a year-high $128 a barrel.

The survey indicates Saudi Arabia has not reopened the taps after trimming output in the last two months of 2012 in response to a lull in international demand and a seasonally lower requirement for crude in domestic power plants.

"I would not think that Saudi Arabia has increased output with customers cutting nominations and its own crude burning lower in January," said Paul Tossetti, senior energy adviser at PFC Energy.

December's OPEC total is the lowest since October 2011 when the group produced 29.81 million bpd, according to Reuters surveys. OPEC output is now the closest it has yet been to its supply target of 30 million bpd since it was set a year ago.

With oil prices above Riyadh's preferred $100 a barrel but with expectations of slower demand in early 2013, OPEC left the target unchanged at a meeting last month, leaving the door open to informal supply tweaks depending on demand.

Saudi Arabia trimmed supply by a further 100,000 bpd in January, according to the survey. Its reduction in December supported the market, although a senior Saudi oil ministry adviser said the move was not aimed at lifting prices.

Iranian exports declined in January, but from a significantly higher level in December than previously thought. December's exports averaged some 1.4 million bpd, up from 1.05 million bpd estimated previously.

Robust demand from China and others such as India and Japan, as well as the purchase of new tankers, allowed Iran to boost exports late last year, despite U.S. and European sanctions aimed at curbing Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

A drop in output from Libya, where oil installations have become a focal point of protests, was the other notable decline in OPEC supply. Operations at the country's Ras Lanuf refinery were expected to resume on Wednesday, after a strike ended.

Brent crude was trading lower on Thursday, just below $115 a barrel.

OPEC's main supply increases in January have come from Iraq and Nigeria, the survey found.

Iraq, the world's fastest-growing exporter, increased shipments from its southern terminals. But exports of Kirkuk crude in the north remained curbed by a renewed dispute between the central government and the Kurdistan region over payments.

Output in Nigeria rose by 40,000 bpd, recovering from disruptions caused by oil spills, flooding and theft. Italian oil firm Eni in January lifted a force majeure on exports of Brass River crude grade after more than two months. ( C) Reuters